According to the United Kingdom’s Dyspraxia Foundation:
Although Dyspraxia may occur in isolation, it frequently coexists with other conditions such as Aspergers Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, language disorders and social, emotional and behavioural impairments.
Those of us who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have a marked difficulty with social relationships, social communication/language skills and imagination. These difficulties are often accompanied by repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. We who have Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), a subtype of Autism, are at the higher end of the autism spectrum and have difficulty with the non-verbal aspects of social communication such as gesture and facial expression. We also have difficulty adjusting our language and behavior to different social situations.
Some of us struggle with motor skills. In theory a formal diagnosis of dyspraxia should not be made if a child has a “pervasive developmental disorder” (including autism). However in reality children are sometimes given both diagnoses, especially if their motor coordination is significantly affected. Where the autism is severe this should be given as the main diagnosis.
Most with AS and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have a history of delayed acquisition of motor skills (e.g., hand writing, pedaling a bike, tying shoe laces, catching a ball, opening jars, climbing monkey-bars, etc.), which is called “motor clumsiness.” This statement brings back many a childhood memory of learning later than my peers of how to tie my shoes. When I finally did, it was a crowning achievement and goodbye to just wearing shoes with no ties. As for monkey bars, I was never caught near them. Now that I am approaching the age of 60, I wouldn’t enter a contest of being the quickest in “opening jars” since my odds of winning would be slim and embarrassment high!
Dyspraxia is a disorder that affects motor skill development. AS and HFA children with Dyspraxia have trouble planning and completing fine motor tasks. This can vary from simple motor tasks (e.g., waving goodbye) to more complex tasks (e.g., brushing teeth). Dyspraxia is a lifelong disorder, and its severity and symptoms can vary from child to child. Also, it can affect individuals differently at different stages of life. Dyspraxia can affect many basic functions required for daily living, and is often broken down into the following categories:
- Constructional Dyspraxia (i.e., establishing spatial relationships, being able to accurately position or move objects from one place to another)
- Ideational Dyspraxia (i.e., multi-step tasks such as brushing teeth, making a bed, putting clothes on in order, buttoning and buckling)
- Ideomotor Dyspraxia (i.e., completing single-step motor tasks like combing hair and waving goodbye)
- Oromotor Dyspraxia (i.e., coordinating the muscle movements needed to pronounce words)
Dyspraxia often exists along with learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and other conditions that impact learning). Weaknesses in comprehension, information processing and listening can contribute to the difficulties experienced by children with Dyspraxia. These young people may also have low self-esteem, depression and other emotional and behavioral issues.
AS and HFA kids with Dyspraxia may experience several difficulties.
Younger kids have problems with:
- Being sensitive to touch (e.g., being irritated by clothing on skin, hair brushing, nail-cutting, or teeth-brushing)
- Bumping into things
- Establishing left- or right- handedness
- Learning to walk, jump, hop, skip and throw or catch a ball
- Moving the eyes—instead, moving the whole head
- Pronouncing words and being understood
School-aged kids have problems with:
- Doing activities that require fine motor skills (e.g., holding a pencil, buttoning, cutting with scissors)
- Phobias and obsessive behavior
- Playing sports, riding a bike and other activities requiring coordination
- Poor pencil grip and letter formation and slow handwriting
- Sensing direction
- Speaking at a normal rate or in way that can be easily understood
Teens have problems with:
- Cooking or other household chores
- Over- or under- sensitivity to light, touch, space, taste, or smells
- Personal grooming and other self-help activities
- Speech control (i.e., volume, pitch, articulation)
- Writing and typing
Early identification and intervention can greatly help an AS or HFA child with Dyspraxia. Depending on the severity of the disorder, therapy from occupational, speech and physical therapists can improve the child’s ability to function and succeed independently.